A jury in Dorchester County has awarded $1.25 million to a man who was hurt when a dead tree fell onto the bed of his pickup truck while he was stopped at a traffic light.
The impact blew out the truck’s shocks and springs and lifted the front wheels off the ground, according to Douglas Jennings of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston. He and another attorney at his firm, David Lail, represented the plaintiff, Donald Gamble.
The 61-year-old veterinarian’s head was “jammed into the roof of his truck” during the incident in Summerville, Jennings said in an interview. Gamble sustained a disc herniation in his cervical spine at two levels and had to undergo cervical fusion surgery.
He alleged that local businessman David Beal, who owned the rental home on the land where the tree in question once stood, was liable because he should have known that the tree had been dead for several years and was a hazard.
Under state law, landowners — and not tenants — in “residential areas have a duty to others outside their property to exercise reasonable care to prevent an unreasonable risk of harm arising from defective trees on their property,” Jennings and Lail wrote in a statement reporting the verdict to Lawyers Weekly.
Attempts to speak with Beal’s attorneys, Morgan Templeton and Thomas Boger of Wall Templeton & Haldrup in Charleston, were unsuccessful.
Beal had testified that he passed the rental property every day on his way to work and never noticed anything that might have indicated that the tree was a hazard, according to Jennings and Lail.
“Riding by every day … that’s not making certain” that the tree was healthy, Jennings said. “It would require more effort on the property owner’s part to go out and look.”
Beal had a $500,000 homeowner’s policy with Auto-Owners Insurance, which rejected Gamble’s offer of judgment for the policy limit and opted to take the case to trial, according to Jennings.
He said Auto-Owners has paid the verdict and interest from the offer of judgment, which totaled more than $1.28 million.
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VERDICT REPORT – PERSONAL INJURY
Amount: $1.25 million
Injuries alleged: Spinal injury
Case name: Donald Gamble v. David Beal
Court: Dorchester County Circuit Court
Case No.: 2016CP181208
Judge: Deadra Jefferson
Date of verdict: Feb. 22
Most helpful experts: Donald Ham, arborist in Clemson; Lindsay Moore, life care planner in Charleston; and Olivia Wood, economist in Columbia
Attorneys for plaintiff: Douglas Jennings and David Lail of Yarborough Applegate in Charleston
Attorneys for defendant: Morgan Templeton and Thomas Boger of Wall Templeton & Haldrup in Charleston